LOVELESS & GOODNIGHT TRAIL,
Graceland, 206-381-3094, $10 adv.
8 p.m. Thurs., Oct. 31
Eyes Adrift are a band. Eyes Adrift are not>"/>
LOVELESS & GOODNIGHT TRAIL,
Graceland, 206-381-3094, $10 adv.
8 p.m. Thurs., Oct. 31
Eyes Adrift are a band. Eyes Adrift are not neo-Meat Puppets, post-Nirvana, Sublime 2.0, or any other glib critical formulation. Eyes Adrift just released their first album. Eyes Adrift, at this moment, are somewhere on the road between St. Louis and Chicago.
"It's so beautiful, man," says Krist Novoselic, in a serene, almost dreamy tone. "When we got together last December it was beautiful, but it's tight now. It's so much better than I could have dreamed. Every night reveals something new."
Novoselic is talking about the music. But he's also talking about something that resists description, the strange alchemy that results from the convergence of Eyes Adrift's constituent parts. And the parts, despite all attempts to come at the band from a fresh perspective, have been the primary object of public focus ever since rumors of the group's assembly began circulating in late 2001.
Eyes Adrift are—to quote directly from their own press release—"Curt Kirkwood (Meat Puppets), Krist Novoselic (Nirvana), and Bud Gaugh (Sublime)."
Eyes Adrift are a band. You'd better believe it.
THE BRIEF STORY began last year, when a string of solo shows took Curt Kirkwood to Seattle and Long Beach, Calif. Independently of one another, Novoselic and Gaugh contacted Kirkwood as he passed through their towns about the possibility of playing together—as a lark or maybe as an extended gig, the options were left open—and a series of dates was blocked out at Wire Recording in Austin, Texas, late in the year.
"We got into the studio," Novoselic says, "and by the second day, it was evident that we were doing good work."
("We figured, 'Wow, there's a loose cannon here,'" offered Curt Kirkwood in a January interview, just prior to the band's first tour. "'Maybe we ought to aim it at somebody's ass.'")
"The bands we'd all played in," Novoselic observes cautiously, "Nirvana, the Meat Puppets, Sublime—those were all pretty influential bands, for a while. For me, it feels like the closing of a circle, to be able to play with Curt. One of the things Nirvana learned from the Meat Puppets was simply this: how to create loud, beautiful music. And without replicating anything, without consciously trying to craft any kind of preordained sound, that's what I think we've done on this record."
Ah, the sound. That was the big cipher, the mystery surrounding this jaw-dropping amalgam of performers, all of whom had influenced and paid homage to each other, in various ways. Nirvana's debt to the Meat Puppets was overtly acknowledged when the Pups guested on Nirvana's moving MTV Unplugged performance; but Bud Gaugh, Sublime's drummer/ percussionist, also had a clear and audible footing in the country-punk shuffle that the Puppets developed in the early 1980s, an elastic rhythmic sense he rarely got to indulge with Sublime. The question, from the very first reports of Eyes Adrift's forming, was, "What must this sound like?"
The first tour, launched following an early-'02 rehearsal schedule at Novoselic's Washington home, was a rousing success—this despite the fact that Eyes Adrift had yet to release a single piece of recorded music.
"On the first pass, we were playing to our various constituencies," Novoselic judges. "But by the second or third song, people got it. It was amazing to watch; they'd never heard it before, but they responded to it.
"And now the album's out," he continues—Eyes Adrift was released on Sept. 24—"and this time around we're playing to our fans. The response has been phenomenal. I couldn't feel happier about it."
After a protracted (and predictable) bidding war, Novoselic, Kirkwood, and Gaugh opted to release their debut on spinART Records, a cooperative label that also numbers music-biz upstarts Frank Black, the Apples in Stereo, and Pere Ubu among its clients—quite a heady roster, and appropriate company for Eyes Adrift bandmates, who've all been on the wrong end of a frequently shabby system.
"We're independent businesspeople, working within the system to sell a product," says Novoselic of spinART's modus operandi. "But at the same time, we're not offering free CD singles with your hamburger order. Another good thing about performing with Curt and Bud is that we've all been fucked around at various points. We've gotten a little bit smarter."
So, the music.
Upon first hearing, what impresses most about Eyes Adrift is how little the band sounds like its three primary antecedents. Elements of the Pups' intricate melodies are discernable, but Kirkwood's lyrics are more direct and playful than on recent recordings: "Everybody is/running hot and cold/and hot," he sings slyly, on "Sleight of Hand." Much of the music is acoustic, an extension perhaps of Kirkwood's solo tour, which sparked the whole connection. A handful of songs take the vibe deep into country and folk roots (check the chugging, steam-train lope of "Dottie Dawn & Julie Jewel," on which Gaugh sounds like he's trying out for a Southern Culture on the Skids gig). And—the most delightful surprise on an album full of delightful surprises—Novoselic turns out to have a sweet, assured voice, handily taking lead vocals on three numbers.
Of course, not everyone has been delighted. In a now-infamous review, Rolling Stone summed up its evaluation with a caustic pun on the title, to which Novoselic replies directly, for the record: "Oh, come on—'Careers Adrift?' If you don't like the album, fine, but why do you have to be insulting?
"After all," he offers tartly, "you're the one changing your format." (Oh, my. Objection sustained.)
Novoselic, in fact, has already weighed in with his response, if anyone's interested. It's a short cut called "Inquiring Minds," a visceral attack on the media's twisting of news into spectacle—a process with which, it must be said, all members of this band are intimately familiar—which features the silencing refrain, "They put flowers on your grave,/Jon Benet."
At its core, Eyes Adrift is folk music, good music created by musical folks, and to describe it by comparison to that which it is not—like Nirvana, the Meat Puppets, and Sublime—is a pointless exercise.
Reach back farther, if you must, for the band's influences: "Me and Curt do vocal warm-ups on the bus, can you believe that?" says Novoselic. "We're going for an Everly Brothers vibe. But, you know, rock."
Eyes Adrift are a band. You know, rock.
"I FEEL REALLY fortunate to have played with Dave Grohl and Kurt Cobain," says Krist Novoselic. "I think we made good music."
Though no one, Novoselic emphatically included, wants to talk about Eyes Adrift in terms of Nirvana, the topic is unavoidable. Eight years on, one can't help revisiting the influence Cobain, Grohl, and Novoselic have had on the musical landscape.
It's hard to remember now, but we once lived in a world where nothing sounded like Nirvana—except maybe the Melvins, a little bit, and who the hell had ever heard the Melvins? As it stands today, Nirvana is dead the way John Lennon is dead: They're everywhere.
A long, litigious struggle over ownership rights stalled the Nirvana single-disc compilation, reportedly in the planning stages for more than a year. Novoselic, without going into any detail on the Widow Love or her alleged army of suits—though who among us, his attorneys particularly, could blame him?—reports being gratified to see the collection, including the previously unreleased track "You Know You're Right," finally hitting store shelves this week.
"I just got my copy, with the remixed stuff and the new song, and it sounds fucking unbelievable, the clarity of the music."
The remixed, remastered collection, titled simply Nirvana and packaged in flat black with white lettering, is a career-spanning document. Perhaps on the basis of its compiled nature, it recently rated a mere B-plus in Entertainment Weekly, under the aegis of that estimable journal's rating system for everything from television sitcoms to art films.
"B-plus," snaps Novoselic, who's under no illusions. "Oh, thank you, professor. If we'd turned it in on time, would it have gotten an A? 'Nirvana doesn't play well with the other bands. They don't share their toys.' What bullshit."
Other projects—most notably the Nov. 11 publication of Cobain's journals—are gathering steam even as the compilation is being unpacked. According to a recent report in NME, the fabled Nirvana boxed set has been tentatively slated for a 2004 release.
In all, these are relatively high-profile days for rock's beloved kitty-pettin', flower-sniffin' corporate whores. But amid his joy at finally getting the pipeline unblocked, Novoselic can't resist the gentle poke.
"There's going to be a lot of Nirvana-related activity this year. We figured to hell with it; we're doing the fast food tie-in, where you drive through and you get your meal package, and you also get the special, limited-edition Nirvana cup.
"Plastic cup," he emphasizes.